Leftovers is our look at a few of the product ideas popping up everywhere. Some are intriguing, some sound amazing and some are the kinds of ideas we would never dream of. We can't write about everything that we get pitched, so here are some leftovers pulled from our inboxes.
Unilever dishes up frozen fancy with Viennetta's return
As nostalgia reigns supreme, Unilever's Good Humor Brand is bringing back everyone’s favorite fancy ice cream dessert from the 1990s.
Viennetta, the sliceable ice cream cake with piped edges and layers of chocolate inside, is returning to grocers' freezers in the United States this year. According to Unilever, the cakes are available nationwide this month.
The dessert, which was quietly discontinued in the ’90s, will only be available in a vanilla flavor — though other varieties currently exist in other countries. According to a fact sheet about Unilever’s new ice cream launches for the year, fans have clamored for the cakes to make a U.S. comeback for nearly 30 years.
As consumers are entering the tenth month of the COVID-19 pandemic, with nearly a year of life interrupted by lockdowns because of the virus, many are reaching for comfort food and flavors. And it doesn’t get much more comforting than a "special occasion" dessert that highlighted get-togethers in the (Bill) Clinton era.
Viennetta is just one of several brands from the ‘80s and ‘90s to reappear in recent years. Crystal Pepsi made a brief comeback, as did Zima, a pioneer in the ’90s malt beverage craze. Dippable Dunkaroos cookies returned to shelves last year, and Planters Cheez Balls and Cheez Curls in their iconic resealable cans also came back to fans.
Nostalgia has a powerful pull on consumers, providing an immediate sense of happiness and comfort, according to research. A 2014 study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that nostalgia evokes powerful positive feelings, making consumers more likely to spend their money on products that bring them to that happy place. And seeing a Viennetta cake at the grocery store or on a shopping app right now may make a consumer more likely to buy a frozen dessert during a January when much of the news is uninspiring.
Viennetta’s return may be another sign that food companies and marketers are foreseeing the end of the pandemic and a return to more normal consumer practices. Before the pandemic, everyone wanted to attract the attention of the millennial shopper. This has been put on the back burner in recent months as Big Food has focused on continued production and reducing coronavirus infections. Viennetta may well be the first “fancy” dessert many millennials remember, and this launch seems to be tailor-made to help that generation remember the good times.
— Megan Poinski
Snap into a (Sonic Chili Cheese Coney) Slim Jim
Slim Jim is condensing the flavor of a chili cheese hot dog into a beefstick.
Sonic Drive-In announced a licensing partnership with Slim Jim to infuse its meat snacks with the flavor of Sonic’s Chili Cheese Coney. The new meat sticks from the Conagra brand are arriving now at select convenience stores and retailers nationwide.
Sonic Chili Cheese Coney flavored Slim Jims are available in individual Monster-sized 1.94-ounce sticks, each with 11 grams of protein.
Spencer Fivelson, brand director at Conagra Brands, said in a statement that partnering with Sonic allows Slim Jim to deliver "the iconic taste" of Sonic’s Chili Cheese Coney in a new way. "Our fans expect bold flavor when they snap into a Slim Jim," he said.
Conagra is investing more in its meat snacks and innovation recently. Last year, the company announced it was spending $100 million to expand its meat snacks production facility in Ohio. Conagra has also continued to innovate in the last year with its Slim Jim brand, after launching its premium line of meat products, Slim Jim Premium Smoked Sticks, in 2017.
Sonic is also no stranger to CPG. The restaurant chain has licensed products on the shelves of grocery and specialty stores including a pre-workout drink mix, frozen ice pops, gelatin and pudding mixes.
More big food companies have been turning to restaurant chains to add innovations to their portfolios in recent years. Partnerships between the restaurants and CPG companies have produced permanent products and limited-edition ones, like Nestlé's California Pizza Kitchen line, Conagra's P.F. Chang's frozen meals and Kellogg’s Wendy's Baconator Pringles.
— Lillianna Byington
Michelob Ultra goes organic in red-hot seltzer market
Michelob Ultra cornered the market on fast-growing beers. It’s hoping to replicate that success in the ultra-competitive hard seltzer market, too.
The AB InBev-owned brand is launching Michelob Ultra Organic Seltzer, the first-ever national USDA-certified offering in the category. The alcoholic beverage, which is hitting shelves nationwide this month, comes in three flavors: cucumber lime, spicy pineapple and peach pear. The drink caters to a host of trends in demand by consumers, with each can having 80 calories with no carbs or sugar.
"We’re kicking off 2021 in a big way by bringing an innovative, first-of-its-kind organic option to the hard seltzer category for those who enjoy clean and refreshing flavors," Ricardo Marques, global vice president of Michelob Ultra, said in a statement. "Michelob Ultra is uniquely positioned to win in the hard seltzer segment."
The new beverage is being developed for the mature hard seltzer consumer who is 35 to 54 years old, an age group driving half of the growth in the segment, Michelob Ultra said. It also is targeting consumers who prioritize natural flavors and enjoy an active lifestyle.
As hard seltzer has upended the once-stagnant alcohol space, nearly every major beer company with a presence in the U.S. has introduced at least one of these products. Anheuser-Busch, part of AB InBev, has Bud Light Seltzer, Natural Light Seltzer, and cocktail-inspired hard seltzers — all of which are aimed at different segments of the alcohol market. Even soda giant Coca-Cola, which has largely eschewed alcoholic beverages, is entering the category through its partnership with Molson Coors.
The category continues to be dominated by two players: Mark Anthony Brands' White Claw and Truly, owned by Boston Beer. Together, they have a combined market share of more than 75%. For brands to cut through the competition and stand out from the market leaders, a hot brand with a unique angle in organic could be enough to grab the consumer's attention.
— Christopher Doering